Salted-Chocolate Rye Cookies

“You don’t post much about sweets, do you?”

I contemplated Matt’s question. He was digging into a ramekin of bittersweet chocolate mousse I had made, and I had just told him I didn’t make it for the blog. You see, I took no particular twist on the recipe, and the heavy cream and eggs I used for it had been bought specifically for the mint chocolate cookie ice cream I made the previous week. Mousse and ice cream aren’t the kinds of dishes you make to use up leftovers, usually. He was right, I could expand on the number of dessert recipes on the site.

I opted to make a dessert for the first of many upcoming summer potlucks. I saved a recent Tasting Table recipe for Salted-Chocolate Rye Cookies. It was adapted from a recipe in a cookbook out of the reputable Tartine Bakery & Cafe series. It looked rich and delicious. So many times when I tell people that the recipe I plan to make for an event or dinner is one I’ve never tried before, I get reactions of shock and horror. But this recipe calls for one pound of bittersweet chocolate. How bad can it be? I figure as long as I don’t burn the chocolate, the cookies will be enjoyed by most party guests.

The main draw of the recipe was that it calls for whole grain rye flour, an ingredient I was having trouble getting through after buying from a King Arthur Flour sale.

On a side note, I am such a King Arthur Flour super-fan. I frequently look for excuses to shop their website. I have gone out of my way driving through Vermont to stop at its bakery and storefront. If one of their recipes told me to climb a cliff to bake the muffins, I would seriously consider it. (Guess what, today they announced another sale! I swear they aren’t paying me to say this.)
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Salted Chocolate-Rye Cookies
From Tasting Table

2⅔ Cups (1 pound) bittersweet chocolate (63-72% cacao), chopped or in chip form
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ Cup whole-grain rye flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon fine salt
4 large eggs
, at room temperature
1½ Cups muscovado, natural cane sugar, or light brown sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
Sea salt
, preferably flaky, for topping

Prepare a small saucepan filled with about 1 inch of water and heat over medium to bring water to a simmer. Add chocolate and butter to a heatproof bowl that can hover over the simmering water without touching. Place bowl over the water and melt the chocolate and butter together.
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Stir occasionally with a heatproof spatula, taking care to check the bottom of the bowl. The chocolate and butter may take several minutes to melt.

Once melted, remove from the heat.
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In a small bowl, add the rye flour, baking powder, and salt and whisk together.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the eggs.

There’s a little piece of advice cooks like to give about cracking eggs for baking: never crack the egg directly over your bowl of ingredients. Instead, crack eggs one at a time into a small bowl, and then pour from that bowl to the mixing bowl. This is to prevent you from getting shards of eggshell hopelessly buried in your dough or batter. When you are terrible at cracking eggs, like me, this is good advice. It’s advice I don’t always follow. This time, I made the right choice, and you can see why:
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I used organic natural cane sugar from my pantry.

I used organic natural cane sugar from my pantry.

Using the whisk attachment on your stand mixer, begin to whip the eggs on medium high. Add the sugar gradually, and mix until incorporated. Turn up the mixer and whip until the eggs increased in volume nearly 3x (about 6 minutes).
Before whipping

Before whipping


After whipping

After whipping

DSC_9154Lower the mixer speed and add the melted chocolate-butter mixture and the vanilla, stirring until fully combined. Add in the flour mixture and stir just until combined. A spatula attachment or manual stirring would be best at this point. The dough will be soft, almost like brownie batter.

Refrigerate dough until firm, at least 30 minutes. If you leave it in the fridge longer, it will have to warm up for a little bit before you can scoop it easily.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.
Take dough from fridge and scoop rounded tablespoons onto the baking sheets, spacing the balls about 2 inches apart.
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Top with a few flakes of sea salt.
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Bake for 8 to 12 minutes, until the cookies have completely puffed up. They should have a smooth bottom and rounded tops.

Almost there!

Almost there!


Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool slightly on the baking sheets. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Enjoy within a few days.
Dense, fudgy, salty goodness.

Dense, fudgy, salty goodness.


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Beet Carpaccio Salad with Goat Cheese, Proscuitto, and Candied Walnuts

Isn’t it ironic that the most delicious, comforting foods can look ugly in photographs. while cold, bland dishes appear stunning? (I checked to make sure that I am using the word “ironic” correctly, especially after watching Weird Al’s music video this week). We live in a world where it can’t be true that you ate good food unless you got a good picture. I can be reluctant to post certain recipes on this blog because they look unimpressive in my pictures.

I’m not going to dwell on these facts, because today I have a recipe for you that is delicious for the eyes and the mouth. Hooray!
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When you receive something as visually lively as red and white candy cane beets in your farm share, you have to show them off. If you have one red beet leftover from the previous week, even better! Throw in some salt, some sugar, and some fresh herbs, and some creamy and crunchy texture, and you have a delightful dish.

Beet Carpaccio Salad with Goat Cheese, Prosciutto, and Candied Walnuts
Inspired by this, this, and this

About 3 medium-large beets, of various colors – such as 1 red and 2 Chioggia
For the dressing:
1 Tablespoon of fresh basil
, chopped
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 Tablespoon red onion
or shallot, minced
juice from 1 lemon
5 Tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

To top it off:
about 2 ounces crumbled goat cheese
, to taste
about 2 teaspoons capers, to taste
1 piece of proscuitto, chopped into bite-sized pieces, to taste
about 3 Tablespoons candied walnuts, chopped (see below for instructions), to taste

You can roast the beets and glaze the walnuts for this recipe the day or even days before, which eases the pressure of completing it for dinner guests.

Burnt edges but still edible!

Burnt edges but still edible!

I thought I would take a shortcut and use a microwave method for combining the sugar and walnuts. Not a good idea–even at 2 minute intervals, they started burning and sticking before they were supposed to be done. As a result, I don’t advise following this recipe. Anyway, I used 1 Cup walnut halves and 1/3 Cup sugar plus 2 Tablespoons of water. Using these quantities and caramelizing on the stovetop with a little more water would probably be fine. Once they are coated in melted sugar, pour onto a sheet to cool. Transfer to an airtight container and use for any and all salads. Or snacking.

For roasting the beets, heat the oven to 350F. Trim the beets before roasting.
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Wrap in an aluminum foil packet with a little sprinkle of water. Place on a roasting pan and cook until tender when pierced with a fork (check at 45 minutes). Once done and cool, they should be easy to peel.

The chioggia beets remind me of a beautiful sunset...

The chioggia beets remind me of a beautiful sunset…

Slice the beets thinly and layer on a white dish, alternating colors.
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Prepare the dressing ingredients: lemon, basil, onion, and olive oil.
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You could add a pinch of sugar or a drop of honey if you want more sweetness.

Drizzle dressing evenly over the beets.
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Top with crumbled goat cheese, walnuts, prosciutto slices, and capers.
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The assembled salad keeps well and develops more flavor in the refrigerator.
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Because it looks so beautiful, you won’t hesitate to reach for any leftovers!

Chicken Thighs with Caramelized Fennel

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Once upon a time, I disliked fennel. When people are introduced to fennel for the first time, often they are told it tastes like black licorice, something people generally love or hate. Am I the only one who thinks it is sad that people are more familiar with the taste of a candy than of a vegetable? Anyway, I always hated black licorice. But with enough exposure to fennel, I love it! When generously dressed with olive oil and fresh lemon, it makes a great raw salad. It pairs well with cheese (shaved Pecorino Toscano or Parmesan Reggiano in particular), takes on a pleasant sweetness when partnered with other roasting vegetables, and complements braised chicken and simmered seafood. I challenge naysayers to keep trying. Hey, even I eat brussel sprouts (blech) if I perceive they have been prepared well.

I’ve been perusing the new cooking site on nytimes.com. So far, I’m a big fan. You can do a recipe search based on (single) ingredients, and many of the recipes are straightforward. A search of “fennel” led me to this Braised Chicken Thighs With Caramelized Fennel recipe, a near perfect match with my pantry, fridge, and CSA box. This recipe is particularly appealing because it creatively uses the fennel fronds as well as the bulbs, and even calls for fennel seeds. It is simple and delicious. The hardest part is slicing your fennel thinly. Fortunately, the caramelization process is forgiving of imperfect technique.
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Braised Chicken Thighs With Caramelized Fennel
adapted from Andrew Scrivani of the The New York Times
Makes 4 servings

For the fennel frond puree:
1 large or 3 small cloves garlic, roughly chopped
½ teaspoon lemon zest, grated
1 teaspoon kosher salt
⅓ Cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 Cup fennel fronds
from 2 large fennel bulbs

For the braised chicken and caramelized fennel:
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil, such as sunflower, grapeseed, or canola
4 bone-in chicken thighs (about 2 pounds)
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
2 large fennel bulbs
, thinly sliced
1 onion, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon white wine, liquor, or beer
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Trim fennel bulbs, separating fronds for the purée.
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Combine about 1/2 cup fronds, chopped garlic, lemon zest and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a blender or food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add 1/3 cup extra virgin oil and purée.
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DSC_9050Halve fennel bulbs lengthwise. Carefully slice with a mandoline or sharp knife into thin slices. I’m not convinced mandoline is the way to go, because it struggles with the tougher leaves. Also, it would have been easier if my fennel bulbs were slightly larger.

Prepare chicken by seasoning with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. In a large skillet over high heat, heat 2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil. With high heat, you need an oil with a high smoke point. The original recipe called for extra virgin olive oil, but I always burn that. I pulled out sunflower oil for this.
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DSC_9049Add chicken and brown until skin is crisp, about 8 minutes.
Transfer to a plate – it will be finished later on alongside the caramelized vegetables. You’ll be reusing pan with drippings for the vegetables. I transferred my chicken to a baking sheet and put it to the oven temporarily, because I thought it would need extra time being bone-in. Turns out it didn’t need that much time before it reached 165 F.
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Add fennel seeds to skillet and stir. After 30 seconds, add fennel and onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

I should note that my since my fennel bulbs and onion were rather small, you may want to scale up if you are looking to satisfy four people for a meal, rather than two people plus leftovers.

I should note that my since my fennel bulbs and onion were rather small, you may want to scale up if you are looking to satisfy four people for a meal, rather than two people plus leftovers.


Reduce heat to medium and let the vegetables go until they are caramelized, stirring occasionally (about 15 minutes). Add liquor (I used white wine, which was open) to deglaze the bottom of the skillet; cook until liquid has evaporated, about 1 minute.
About halfway there.

About halfway there.


Place chicken on top of the fennel-onion mixture. Pour a little water into the pan and cover. Reduce heat to medium-low and and cook until chicken is up to temperature. If there is any excess liquid, let it simmer off with the pan uncovered at the end. Stir in lemon juice.
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Plate chicken atop vegetables and pour over the fennel frond purée.
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Kitty outtake:
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Easy Answers

It’s the middle of summer, when happiness should be at its peak, and I’ve been feeling a little discouraged. I keep running into people who, when faced with complex options, opt to take no action. I have started doubting my own activities.

Hearing the slew of news about our deteriorating environment, diminishing resources and deep piles of refuse can get pretty depressing. There are those who are convinced that any negative consequences of human activity can be offset. They are happy to address the problems down the road. Others latch on to new, “greener” ways of life with passionate fervor. My guess is that the majority of people are somewhere in between. The truth is, there aren’t too many easy answers to questions about how we should live our lives day-to-day. We all would love a Twitter-sized 140-characters-or-less answer to the question, “What is the antidote?” It’s rarely available. We live in a large world, disconnected from each other in many ways, and connected in many ways we may not want (thanks, Google). Every action, even every inaction, has consequences. A proposed solution to a problem may lead to another problem.

Sometimes we are confronted with choosing the lesser of two evils. Take my blog project, for example. Driven by the global statistics of 30-40% of food sent to landfills, I try to keep as much as possible out of the trash. I don’t need the produce I choose to be perfect. I’m part of a CSA which provides centralized, weekly deliveries of fresh, nutritious organically-grown vegetables, helping me avoid ad hoc car trips to come up with meals, thus saving on fossil fuels. I also live in a suburban area, so I don’t need to go far to get something I’m missing. Even the choice to cook fresh ingredients at home involves tradeoffs. I use a significant amount of fresh water, a limited resource for many, to clean and cook my ingredients and to wash all those dishes. There’s natural gas and electricity used to run appliances and lights in my kitchen. And I’m usually cooking for only one or two people, verses in a cafeteria or restaurant, where energy consumption per diner is often reduced due to economies of scale.

People need to be reminded of the tradeoffs. Last week, July 3 marked International Bag Free Day, promoted by several organizations that want the elimination of single-use shopping bags. I got to thinking about the fact that plastic bags have been a contentious issue for years. I remember, back in high school, I selected the topic “paper or plastic?” for a research paper, having grown up with the phrase ringing in my ear after every trip to the grocery store. I hoped to find a straight-forward answer about which type of bag I should use–which type of bag is the “greener” choice. I assumed that paper, being recyclable, would win out. Instead, I learned that the process for recycling paper bags demands huge amounts of water and electricity and transporting them generates greater CO2 emissions. Single-use plastic bags are, of course, a big problem because they are made of petroleum, a finite resource, and they take more than a lifetime to break down. They have contributed significantly to the litter in our oceans and can be toxic and harmful to the marine environment. Knowing these tradeoffs, I tried to skip bags or reuse them as much as possible.

Wouldn’t it be better to get rid of single-use bags and commit to reusable bags? In the United States, California is leading the charge to eliminate single-use plastic shopping bags; according to a February 2014 article in The New York Times, state lawmakers are moving to establish a statewide ban. The bags are already banned in nearly 100 municipalities there, with paper bags usually available for a fee. The article was fairly light and fluffy, smattered with quotes from consumers who were making do and those who see the ban as unfair and unhelpful. The online comment section, however, went on for days. People felt strongly for and against the ban. Guess what? Making an impact by switching to reusable bags isn’t easy either. One commenter directed readers to review this study from the U.K. Environmental Agency, which showed that certain multi-use bags needed to be reused many times (173 times for a cloth one) to have a definitively lower “global warming potential” than a lightweight plastic shopping bag that was reused as a garbage bin liner. More than one commenter pointed out the fact that reusable bags can be dangerous, because they harbor bacteria. (That made me stop and think. I even laundered my cloth grocery bags and disinfected some of my vinyl ones.)

The opinion in Europe must be polarized as well, preventing their proposed government ban from going through.

While it can be tempting to throw in the towel and join the inactive, I am reminded that there are plenty of people out there dedicated to steering others in the direction of lesser evils. Witnessing these successful efforts to chip away at the consciousness of our consumer culture makes me hopeful. Through creative marketing and ingenious products, complex choices have become simplified. It becomes possible to envision our citizens changing behavior on a larger scale. Just when I needed encouragement, I learned (thanks to Edible Manhattan and Leanpath) about French supermarket chain Intermarché’s launch of an “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables” marketing campaign to promote the sale of less-than-perfectly shaped produce. If you have read through my blog, you saw the Eat Ugly Food post, in which I wish for something like that here in the United States. The video about their campaign is truly inspiring; you should watch it.

How could we make the elimination of plastic bags a no-brainer? Companies, like Ikea, have charged customers for single-use plastic bags. In fact, after reporting that “92% of their customers said no more plastic bags!” Ikea discontinued offering them altogether. But what did this do to those responsible citizens of the earth, who would have reused those single-use bags in their homes as trash bags or for other perfectly reasonable uses? Perhaps, instead of implementing a polarizing policy and running the risk of ticking off some of their best customers, Ikea could have tried a BYOB (bag) discount. Would 100% of deal-loving Americans stop and think, “we don’t need plastic bags”? Would they consistently remember to bring their reusable bag if they could save a buck?

What about you? Could you survive a ban on the single-use plastic bags, or should the focus be on getting you to stop using them on your own? What creative initiatives have convinced you to take action?

Spring Vegetable Ramen

Viki collageIt’s no big secret that I’m a big fan of vegetables in the garlic and onion family, also known as Allium vegetables. I haven’t yet gone to the trouble of calculating, but Allium species ingredients may be in 95% of my recipes on this blog! allium Onions, garlic, scallions, shallots, chives–I love ’em all. One of my favorite bulbs that blooms in spring happens to be named Allium as well! Those flowers peaked weeks ago. The time for ramps has passed. Summer officially began last Saturday, and what do we have now? Garlic scapes. Those are the antennae in the goofy photo above.

I found an exciting way to use my scapes among Blue Apron’s weekly meal offerings. I like that they publish recipes on their website without requiring you to purchase the boxes, like I did recently. I’ll be honest, the recipe probably caught my eye because of the prominence of a slightly soft egg yolk in the picture. Also, it’s about time I join in on the country’s enthusiasm for ramen (though I refuse to make it with American cheese).
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As a soup, you can really design this dish however you want. I chose to shop for a few items (mushrooms, peas, nori, and ramen noodles), and I had the rest ready to go.

Spring Vegetable Ramen
with Garlic Scapes, Shiitake Mushrooms and Egg

Adapted from Blue Apron

5 ounces fresh english peas, shelled
4 ounces sliced shiitake mushroom caps
2 eggs
2 garlic scapes
, thinly sliced
2 scallion, white and green parts thinly sliced separately
1 1-Inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
1 lemon
1 sheet nori
(dried seaweed)
4 Cups vegetable broth or stock
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
12 ounces ramen noodles
2 ounces arugula
Plenty of salt and pepper to taste
, which will depend greatly on the seasoning in your broth

I thawed a chunk of homemade (chicken) broth I had stowed away in the freezer for something like this. You really can use any broth, but you'll need vegetable if you're keeping it vegetarian, of course.

I thawed a chunk of homemade [chicken] broth I had stowed away in the freezer for something like this. You really can use any broth, but obviously you’ll need vegetable if you’re keeping it vegetarian.

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Take out all your ingredients for preparation, including the eggs. The eggs should come to room temperature before cooking. I was particularly nervous about this step because when I attempted to make hard-boiled eggs last week, I followed Martha Stewart’s instructions here, and it was a major failure.

Set a pot of salted water over high heat and bring to a boil while you prep all of the vegetables.

Tip: you can use one prep bowl for your sliced garlic scapes, the whites of your scallions, and the minced ginger. The green parts of the scallions should have their own bowl. The shelled peas have their own bowl.
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Remove some of the yellow rind of the lemon with a peeler. Avoid the white pith. Mince the rind finely. Measure 2 teaspoons and set aside. Quarter the lemon, remove its seeds, and set aside.

Make thin strips of nori with a knife or scissors (one of my favorite kitchen tools!).
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Carefully add the room-temperature eggs to the boiling water and set a timer for exactly 7 minutes. Then drain and rinse under cold water for about a minute to prevent them from cooking further.

In the same pot in which you boiled the eggs, set some more salted water to boil (yay less dishes!).
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In a second, larger pot, add about 2 teaspoons of olive oil and heat over medium heat.

Pour in the ingredients in your one bowl of scapes, green onion, and minced ginger. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté for a minute or two until slightly softened.

Add the mushrooms and cook for about a minute more. Then pour in the vegetable broth, soy sauce, and lemon zest. Squeeze in the juice from two of the lemon wedges, to start.
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Increase the heat to bring the broth to a boil. Then lower the heat so the mixture simmers; let it go for 8-10 minutes.

Moment of truth: while the broth simmers, peel the eggs and cut them in half lengthwise. (SUCCESS! Solid whites and slightly gooey yolk.)

Squeeze lemon juice over the arugula and toss. Add salt and pepper.

When the broth is about ready, stir in the peas, season with more salt and pepper, and remove from heat. Leave lid on to keep warm while you cook the noodles.

Add the noodles to your pot of boiling water, stirring to separate. Cook according to package directions. Drain rinse with warm water.

In two large bowls, divide the noodles.
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Pour broth in bowls. Garnish with the dressed arugula, scallions greens, nori strips, and eggs. Add a bit more lemon juice if needed.
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That's what I'm talking about.

That’s what I’m talking about.

Kale and Mint Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing

A haiku:

‘Tis salad season
What came in this week’s farm share?
Yes, lettuce again.

It is the time of year to have greens on the brain. My Golden Earthworm Organic Farm CSA started distributing its shares just three weeks ago, and I am already racing to keep up. I don’t to come across as complaining–this is some of the freshest, most nutritious food I can eat. And remember Crystal’s experiment? You might be interested in catching up with her here. Sounds like she might enjoy salad right now.

I used recipes from all different sources for my weeks’ inspiration. There was the Warm Orzo Salad with radishes and Dijon vinaigrette, from Good Housekeeping magazine, which I ate spooned over mixed greens. I cracked open Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food II to mix it up and make Red Romaine Salad with Sherry Vinegar and Garlic.
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Joy the Baker inspired me to use the baby kale in her Tuna, Kale, and Egg Salad recipe.
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A real highlight, these strawberries arrived in last week’s share. Eating them sliced over arugula with balsamic glaze drizzle was almost as good as dessert, and I didn’t even add the usual goat cheese!

One particular kale salad I made last week was special. It was a rock star salad; it rocked with flavor. Since kale is so hip, perhaps I should call it a pop star salad? If so, it would compare to those pop stars you think of and say, “he’s so famous, he can’t be any good,” and then you end up being impressed by his talent.

Once again, this salad has an Asian flair–the soy sauce, the spice, the peanut butter. It reminded me of the flavors I loved so much at a restaurant named Chin Chin, in Melbourne, Australia. It’s the kind of heat that makes your nose run a little, but you don’t feel like you’re dying.

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Kale and Mint Salad with Spicy Peanut Dressing
from Food52 user dymnyno

Salad*:
1 large bunch lacinato kale, chopped very small
1 Cup fresh mint, minced, or a combination of fresh mint and fresh cilantro
1 Cup walnuts, chopped

Dressing:
3 Tablespoons smooth peanut butter
3 Tablespoons warm water
3 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 Tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh garlic
, minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes

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*These quantities aren’t meant to be precise. I realize that a “large” bunch is very subjective–usually one of my pet peeves in recipes, so I should have given you a weight by ounces. But the idea is to vary the ratios based on your taste preferences and what you have at home. In my case, I had leftover cilantro, a herb that would sensibly fit in with this flavor profile.

DSC_8726Mint was one of the first plants to assert itself in my garden this spring. Some people consider them weeds, they take over so much. If you have to pull some up, try to use it in a salad before tossing the rest!

When you are prepping the salad, the step of mincing the kale makes such a big difference in the texture. Kale can be tough, and this method helps tenderize the leaves without pre-cooking them. I found that the most efficient way to mince the kale was to remove the stems, stack and leaves, roll them up, and slice, using the chiffonade method. See below.
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Toss the chopped kale, chopped herbs, and the walnuts together.
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DSC_8741To a blender or food processor, add the peanut butter, warm water, garlic, rice wine vinegar, pomegranate molasses, soy sauce, minced ginger, sesame oil and red chili flakes. Mix at high speed until everything is smooth. So easy.

Since every bunch of kale is a different size, and every salad is going to be a different size, pour just some of the dressing into the salad at first. Add more as you go until you feel it is adequately dressed, and save the rest for another salad.
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I see more rock star salads like this in my future. But the next batch of green lettuce I get? I think I’ll put some on a burger.
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Going Green with Soylent Green

Today, I am excited to feature a guest post by my friend, Crystal. Crystal is an actual friend, not simply an acquaintance or networking contact. We go way back, to the line for having one’s caricature drawn during a college freshman orientation event (where did that drawing go, anyway?). I guarantee there was free food involved. Crystal and I have a lot in common; we both love preparing and eating food as well as efficient time and energy management. She happens to be a stellar writer. Crystal is much braver than me in a lot of ways, including this latest adventure. I know I have acknowledged before how a dedication to planning interesting meals and the desire for efficiency can contradict. I have noted that one can see an entire evening disappear while preparing food, perhaps while other tasks or pleasures loom. I will admit that my cooking doesn’t always come cheap. Crystal faced the facts–she is on a mission to cut it all back. Read on for part one!

—————————————–

All natural Soylent mix

Last month, the New Yorker published a piece on Soylent, a shelf-stable powder that can be mixed with water to become a meal replacement. “The End of Food,” the headline screamed, “Has a tech entrepreneur come up with a product to replace our meals?” Unlike Slim Fast and similar products, Soylent claims to be nutritionally complete, the only thing you’ll need to eat (er, drink) for the rest of your life (which hopefully will not be shortened due to diet). Also, it was invented by a bunch of young engineers who subsequently launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to manufacture Soylent for the masses. $755,000 later, we are that much closer to a humanity that doesn’t have to think about food ever again. This despite a name that was intentionally chosen for dark humor.

My gut reaction upon hearing the Soylent story was that it was a ludicrous idea. Why would anyone want to replace all of their meals with this shake? That would take all the fun and pleasure out of eating! The more I thought about it though, the more I started to see the appeal. As someone who loves food, cooking and works in the food industry on several levels, it’s hard for me to step away from my “Good food will bring world peace and cure cancer!” bubble. But I know for many people, food is a means, not a way of living, and it requires time, expertise and effort to craft meals three times a day. If you are cramming for finals and would otherwise drink soda and grab two dollar-slices of pizza, is Soylent such a bad alternative?

So, I went to the Soylent website and looked at the ingredients. It read like the elements of the periodic table: choline bitartrate, manganese sulfate, chromium chloride, and on and on. As someone who cares about understanding what goes into my body, this was not reassuring. (Yes, I realize that when I eat “real” food, these chemicals are also going into my body, but I would rather they come from recognizable foods than be artificially produced in a factory.)

Also, it was expensive. A week’s supply (21 meals) was $85. That is actually much higher than the amount I usually spend on groceries each week ($20-30). I suppose if you factored in the cost of my pantry ingredients plus the amount I spend eating out at restaurants, I spend more than $85/week on food, but even so, this seemed like a large amount to spend on a product that was widely acknowledged to taste mediocre.

But what if I could make Soylent on my own? It turns out that there is a burgeoning DIY Soylent movement, with a rich variety of recipes designed for various needs (building muscle, losing weight, women’s health, etc). So, I set out to see if I could make Soylent on my own. And lo and behold, there was a recipe online for “All Natural Soylent.” I figured that if I could source all of the ingredients from the venerable Park Slope Food Coop, then it would indicate the quality and relative “naturalness” of my finished Soylent. It would also mean significant cost savings for me compared to buying Soylent directly.

Starting tomorrow (Mon 6/16), I am going to embark on a Soylent-only diet for one week. That means no solid foods, no alcohol, no cheating (I hope). I’ve never tried restricting my diet before in any manner, so clearly going cold-turkey on Soylent for a week will be a cakewalk.

Frequently Asked Questions

Natural Soylent Ingredients

What’s in this “all-natural” Soylent?

Milk, nuts, cocoa powder, dried spices, and other odds and ends, but primarily ingredients that you would know and recognize. Part of the appeal of using this mix was that any leftover ingredients I had at the end of the week could be used in regular cooking, whereas most Soylent recipes call for things like “GNC Mega Men Sport.” I ended up substituting a packet of Emergen-C for camu camu powder, since the Food Coop didn’t carry it, but since the recipe only includes 1 g of this, I don’t feel too bad about the compromise. Here’s the full recipe for a one day/3 serving batch, designed to give you 2,000 calories/day:

  • 5 cups 1% milk, Vitamin D-fortified
  • 55 g coconut sugar (potassium)
  • 45 g cocoa powder
  • 30 g chia seeds (fiber, protein and omega-3 fatty acids)
  • 75 g sunflower seeds (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, B6, and folate)
  • 50 g hazelnuts
  • 25 g peanuts (niacin)
  • 10 g dried spearmint (vitamin K)
  • 5 g dried basil (vitamin K)
  • 10 g soy lecithin (choline)
  • 3 g iodized salt
  • 1 g Emergen-C powder (vitamin C)
  • 1 g paprika (vitamin A)

What’s it taste like?

Honestly, it tastes all right. The dominant flavors are chocolate and mint, so it basically tastes like minty chocolate milk, which would be really appealing if I only liked chocolate more. The texture is a little gritty but tolerable. If I work on my blender technique and experiment with blending the liquids and solids in smaller batches, I think I’ll be able to get a totally smooth shake. Or, if anyone wants to lend me a Vitamix blender, I’m all ears.

No really, why are you doing this? Why are you kicking puppies and taking all the fun out of food?

Anyone who knows me knows that I LOVE to eat. Moreover, I cook frequently and do it well. So I don’t think there’s any question that I’m lacking the skills or motivation to make my own meals. However, I also REALLY love efficiency and good time management. Right now, I spend a good chunk of my time planning meals, assessing my kitchen inventory, grocery shopping, prepping and cooking food. If I freed up that time, what could I do with an extra 5-10 hours each week? That idea excites me immensely. Can you imagine what you could accomplish with that block of time?

I’m also doing this as a social and psychological experiment. What’s it like to eat the same thing every day? I certainly don’t lack for options in NYC, but there are people in developing countries who can’t afford a diverse diet. How do I explain what I’m doing to my friends, family and coworkers? I tried to block off a relatively quiet week for my Soylent diet, so that I could avoid missing out on parties, work events, etc. Of course, it didn’t work out that way, and I’ll definitely be forced to drink my Soylent while at public gatherings. But that’s fine, I’m happy to share my story, even if I come off as a bit of a kook. More importantly, I hope my experiment will inspire some radical conversations about why we eat what we eat, and why the idea of Soylent feels so repulsive and icky to people…or not.

Wait, I heard Soylent makes you burp/fart/[unmentionable effects on your gastrointestinal system] a lot?

Prolific flatulence does seem to be one of the most “dangerous” side effects of the Soylent diet. This is probably because most Americans (97%) don’t eat enough fiber. So when you suddenly start eating the proper amounts of fiber, your system may have some trouble adjusting.

I’m not too concerned about this (though maybe my coworkers should be) because I already eat tons of leafy greens and whole grains, but there’s only way to find out what happens when I’m hitting the minimum recommended fiber level…

Will Soylent be healthier than what I normally eat?

Here’s a one-week snapshot of what I usually eat. In red, I’ve marked the meals which were from restaurants or that I otherwise didn’t make and don’t truly know what went into the food. I am a firm believer that homecooked meals, where you can control exactly what goes into your food, are better for you than food made in commercial settings. (Though I also recognize that some homecooked meals, including my own, can be just as unhealthy/even tastier than restaurant meals.)

Diet Diary

As you can see, much to my chagrin there is a lot of red. This was a week where I attended several events after work, and also had leftovers from Szechuan Gourmet from when I treated my mom and aunt to dinner. So I didn’t do a ton of cooking for myself that week. Weekend mornings are also tough because I’m working as a line cook, which means I end up cramming leftover food scraps into my mouth while I work, then eat at the end of my shift around 4:30 pm.

Without running a full nutritional analysis, I have no way of knowing how healthy my normal diet is, but it’s probably a bit high in fat and not nutritionally complete.

Will I save money by drinking Soylent?

I mentioned above that I felt buying Soylent was expensive, so how does making Soylent compare in terms of cost? I ran the calculations for my version of Soylent, and it comes out to $2.01/meal, which is definitely cheaper, about half the cost of buying official Soylent. If you bought all of the ingredients on Amazon, it would be just a bit more, about $2.75/meal.

Soylent Cost

So that’s that for now. I will be posting throughout the week with updates on the Soylent experiment, whether it’s worth the time savings, cost savings or health benefits, and any other unexpected effects. Stay tuned!

Crystal Cun is a writer, cook and oystermonger in Brooklyn who loves sharp cheeses, knives and ideas. You can read more of her work here or follow her on Twitter at @LadyParmalade.

Fresh Gnocchi & Baby Zucchini with Pan-friend Squash Blossoms – Blue Apron

This post is the third in a series in which I review one of the services that provides pre-portioned ingredients and recipes, delivered to your door. The first was Hello Fresh, then Plated, and now Blue Apron.
See: Salmon Salad – Plated and Hello fresh – hello leftovers?

Like I did for the others, I signed up for Blue Apron through a promotion. It may have had to do with the process of entering that code, but I was a little put off by the fact I had to fully commit my credit card and ordering information before I could select the meals that were going to be covered. I saw the recipes they were featuring in the upcoming weeks. I discovered that while I wasn’t permitted to mark off individual recipes for my next delivery, I could fiddle with my meal preferences (whether I ate meat, fish, etc.) in order to get what I wanted. From some of the reviews, I see that people don’t always receive their top picks. I was pretty excited about the three meals kits I would be getting: Pan-Seared Drum and Tomato Jam with Himalayan Red Rice Risotto & Asparagus, Fresh Gnocchi and Baby Zucchini with Crispy Squash Blossoms & Lemon Brown Butter, and King Trumpet Mushroom Steam Buns with Miso Butter & Japanese Sweet Potato Salad.
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I felt good about the recipes because several of them used ingredients I never have or had never even tried. Like Hello Fresh, I had to order three meals of two servings (I could, mercifully, order only two with Plated). The pricing is very similar, at $10-$12 per person per plate.
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Blue Apron’s delivery came in a giant box. It was thoroughly lined with padding, which kept the ingredients well-protected.
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Everything arrived in great condition. Blue Apron uses the same brand of freezer packs as Plated to keep highly perishable items, like fish, cool at the bottom of the box. I liked the use of brown bags for packaging some of the smaller, miscellaneous ingredients. There was a mix of items that did and did not need refrigeration, but they were small enough to stick in the fridge either way.
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As usual, I executed the fish recipe first. I enjoyed the fish itself, and appreciated the accompanying ingredients, but the dish as a whole seemed overly simple. I had the same issue as before with the rice being bland at first, until I realized that I needed to be truly liberal with salt and pepper. Perhaps I should have added extra garlic–the recipe called for two cloves and they gave me a whole head, which happen to be pretty old.

The recipe I am featuring here is the gnocchi and baby zucchini recipe; this one came out great!

I will say that on the day I unpacked the box, I looked over the squash blossoms, the very top item. I was shocked to see in blaring text that they were a product of Israel.
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Now, I know my produce can come from various parts of the world a different times of the year. But I felt that Blue Apron had specifically alluded to the fact it is spring in the United States, and it is the season to pick the blossoms from the zucchini plants here. Nevermind that it is a little early for that. I felt slightly misled.

Fresh Gnocchi and Baby Zucchini with Crispy Squash Blossoms & Lemon Brown Butter
From Blue Apron
Makes 2 servings

4 whole squash blossoms
1 small lemon
1/2 lb baby zucchini
1/4 Cup rice flour
2 Tablespoons butter
1/3 Cup pecorino cheese
, grated
10 ounces fresh potato gnocchi
Approx. 2-3 Tablespoons of canola oil, for frying

Start by washing and drying the produce.
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DSC_8903Set a large pot of salted water over heat to bring to a boil for the gnocchi for later. Remove the stems and pluck the stamens out of the squash blossoms. Reserve two of the whole flowers to fry. Roughly chop the other two flowers.

Take the lemon and remove some of the yellow rind with a peeler. Avoid the white bitter pith. Finely mince the rind and measure 2 teaspoons to set aside. Cut the lemon in half. Take one of the halves and half that, so that you have a wedge for serving with each of the plates.
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Cut the tops and bottoms off of the zucchini and discard. Slice the zucchini in half lengthwise and then crosswise so you have quarters. Set aside.
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DSC_8907Now we fry the flowers. Combine the rice flour and ⅓ cup of water in a medium bowl to create a batter. It may seem very thin.

Coat the bottom of a medium sauté pan with oil and heat until very hot. If you flick a little water into the oil and it sizzles, it is ready to go. Dip the whole squash blossoms in the batter, allowing any excess to drip off. Because my batter was so watery, I felt like hardly anything stuck. Perhaps I could have added less water.
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Transfer the battered squash blossoms to the pan and cook until crispy, 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt. Set aside.

Discard the oil from your sauté pan, pouring it into a heatproof bowl to cool first. Carefully wipe out the pan.

Time for the lemon brown butter sauce. To the same pan, add the butter and melt. As a warning, the pan may have retained so much heat that the butter already starts to melt and brown without turning the heat back on at first.
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Watching closely, cook until the butter foams, and swirl around until it becomes golden brown and smalls nutty, about 2-3 minutes.

Add the chopped squash blossoms and lemon zest and cook, stirring frequently, 5 to 10 seconds, or until thoroughly coated.
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Add the zucchini and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 3-5 minutes. Once the squash is tender, stir in the juice of your lemon half.
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In the meantime, add the gnocchi to the pot of boiling water.
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The gnocchi should be done and tender in 2-3 minutes, when it floats to the top of the pot. Use a slotted spoon or strainer to transfer the cooked gnocchi to the pan with the cooked zucchini and brown butter. If the zucchini isn’t tender yet, transfer the gnocchi temporarily to a separate bowl.
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I love the little ridges! These reminded me of Alf.
ALF Season 1

Pour in most of the Pecorino cheese, keeping a few pinches for serving. Scoop ¼ Cup of reserved pasta water and stir into the mixture.
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Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve the gnocchi on 2 dishes, topped with a fried squash blossom each. Sprinkle with the remaining Pecorino cheese.
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Once I scooped out what I felt was two servings, there was about one serving left in the pan. I was underserving because my husband and I had snacked beforehand, and were eating a salad as well. For once, I was content with the quantity of food that came out. And the taste was wonderful. The lemon flavor really shined, balanced by the salty cheese, and the tender gnocchi and zucchini created a very pleasant mouthfeel. I would have liked to see the fried blossoms come out crispier; improvements could be made to the batter. This will be a great recipe to return to when the squash blossoms are harvested here in New York!

Blue Apron Rating (on a scale of 1-5):
Ordering: 2
Packaging: 4
Ingredients (freshness): 3
Recipe accuracy (quantities, ratios): 4
Instructions: 4
Recipe uniqueness: 4
Accuracy of portion sizing: 4
Taste: 5

Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon and Red Peppers

I hope you aren’t one of those people who envisions the color yellow or orange when thinking of cheese.

kraft-mac-and-cheese 2If you are, I’m sure you have lots of company. How many of us were introduced to macaroni and cheese as a child in the form of Kraft’s infamous blue boxes and the orange cheese sauce? Heck, I enjoyed it then. My mom would add cut-up hot dogs, which probably made a huge difference in boosting the bland taste of that cheese. Then there’s baked cheddar Goldfish, another childhood staple (and a fairly good snack choice). At some point, the color orange became associated with enhanced flavor.

This upbringing was misleading! I was duly educated during a tour of the Cabot Cheese facility a few years ago. Cheese should be white, not yellow! Sure it can be a natural additive that gives cheese an orange hue. And OK, apparently it is added, or left out, to signal where the cheese was made. But in the case of Kraft macaroni and cheese, some people believe the dye his harmful. And when think about the main ingredients, isn’t it a little odd? When was the last time you saw yellow milk?

Now that I have finished my tirade, I am going to tell you about my adapted macaroni and cheese recipe, that happens to come out orange. Ha! It is naturally colored that way because I include the spice turmeric. Someone had recently reminded me about turmeric’s purported inflammation-relieving properties, which made me want to use it.
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I adapted a recently published Cooking Light Chicken-Broccoli Mac and Cheese recipe that has turmeric on the ingredients list, but I left out the chicken and substituted red bell pepper for the broccoli. I also followed some of the methods in another recipe from Betty Crocker that had the same ingredients I wanted to use.
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I had been looking for a recipe that uses bacon, because I had a little left in a package that was expiring. I never hear anyone else dealing with this. Am I the only one in the world who has trouble using up bacon?

Macaroni and Cheese with Bacon and Red Peppers
Adapted from Cooking Light and Betty Crocker

6 ounces uncooked pasta, such as macaroni (of course), shells, penne, or rigatoni (my favorite)DSC_8697
2-3 slices of bacon, to taste, roughly chopped
1 (about 6 ounces) red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 (about 1 ounce) green onions, sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
1 Tablespoon garlic, minced
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 1/4 Cups low-fat milk
, 1% ideal
1 Cup low sodium chicken stock,
OR 1 teaspoon of Better-Than-Bouillon Chicken Base dissolved in 1 Cup hot water
1/4 Cup all-purpose flour
about 1 1/4 Cups (5 ounces) sharp cheddar cheese, shredded; I used this amazing cheese
1/4 Cup panko
1 Tablespoon butter

With the two different recipes, there are two approaches: 1. cooking the bacon and vegetables and sauce in a pan and then transferring everything into a casserole dish to bake for awhile, and 2. cooking the bacon and vegetables and sauce in the same pan you will put in the oven to broil briefly. I chose 2. One less dish to wash!

In a medium saucepan, cook pasta according to package directions, leaving out the salt.

Prepare your vegetables of choice, chopping or slicing them down so they aren’t much bigger than your pasta of choice.
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Cook bacon in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat until browned. Remove the bacon from pan with a slotted spoon. Pour all but 1 1/2 teaspoons of the drippings out of the pan.

Such a tiny amount of bacon!

Such a sad, tiny amount of bacon!

Add peppers and green onions to the pan and sauté over medium heat for about 4 minutes.
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Add in the garlic and cook 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with turmeric; cook 30 seconds, stirring frequently.

Have your other ingredients measured and ready! Also, preheat oven to broil.
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With a whisk, combine 3/4 teaspoon salt, milk, stock, and flour. Add mixture to pan and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Cook until thickened, about 2 minutes, and then turn off the heat.
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Add pasta mixture and about half of the cheese and toss together.
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Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Melt 1 Tablespoon of butter in a dish and combine with panko; sprinkle over pasta mixture. Top with bacon.

Looks like a party, doesn't it?

Looks like a party, doesn’t it?


Broil 2 minutes or until cheese melts and just begins to brown. Watch closely. It might not brown evenly. No worries. The imperfection means it is real food!

Enjoy your creamy and naturally cheesy macaroni and cheese!
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Sourdough Chocolate Cupcakes with Espresso Icing

Sometimes you need to make cupcakes simply because you have some cute paper baking cups.
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OK, you caught me, the red, white and blue paper cups were not the only reason I planned to bake for our Memorial Day party on Monday. Another reason is that the recipe puts the sourdough to use again! Plus, I had all the other ingredients on hand.

Memorial Day certainly lived up to its reputation as the unofficial start of summer. I could not have asked for a more perfect day to spend almost entirely outdoors. Right away, I started the sourdough part of the cupcake batter so it could sit for its allotted time, and then spent the entire morning finishing up weeding and planting my flowers, herbs, and tomato plants in the gardens around my yard. During the afternoon, Matt and I socialized on the deck with friends and family, serving these cupcakes for dessert after enjoying a delectable shrimp boil and a couple of grilled pizzas.

Shrimp boil with potatoes and corn and a few crab legs--why not?

Shrimp boil with potatoes and corn and a few crab legs–why not?

DSC_8664The cupcakes were irresistible to our crowd, even members of which have a fair amount of self control when it comes to sugar. You can certainly swap in a different icing without the coffee flavor if you are serving to children. Espresso powder (another pantry ingredient that hadn’t been getting much use lately) has the magical effect of intensifying chocolate flavor in baked goods, so I suggest leaving it in the cake portion, if you have it in the first place. And if you don’t have sourdough? Well, if you’re the type who loves baking, get on that. Or just use another favorite chocolate cake recipe.

Sourdough Chocolate Cupcakes with Espresso Icing
Adapted from King Arthur Flour to make cupcakes
Makes about 18 full-sized cupcakes

Cake Batter:
1 Cup sourdough starter
, fed and “rested”*
1 Cup milk , whole or 2% is better (I improvised with skim plus a little heavy cream)
2 Cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 Cups granulated sugar

1 Cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 Cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon espresso powder
(optional)
2 large eggs

Espresso Icing: (this has been scaled down for cupcakes–you’ll need the original recipe’s quantity, or more, if making a layer cake)
2 teaspoons espresso powder or instant coffee dissolved in 2 teaspoons hot water
1/2 Cup (1 stick, 4 ounces) butter
~1/3 Cup plain Greek or regular yogurt
, or you can use buttermilk or sour cream
4 Cups powdered confectioners’ sugar

*This is where you have to plan ahead. The sourdough starter needs to be fed regularly anyway, so you could do the feeding the night before to have it ready for this recipe. Remember you may have to “feed” the starter again after taking out a Cup, depending on whether it is overflowing. The process we follow is to discard 1 Cup, add 1 Cup flour and 1/2 Cup water, stir, and let it sit out for 2-4 hours before returning to the fridge. I remembered late that the discarded cup can be used to start a new batch of sourdough, so I could have also fed that to make my batch for the cake.
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To make the cake:
In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine the starter, milk, and flour. Let this mixture rest for 2 to 3 hours in a warm place. It may start to bubble a little bit, and should smell slightly sour in a pleasant way.
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In a second bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the sugar, oil, vanilla, salt, baking soda, cocoa, and espresso powder.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the sourdough mixture to the creamed mixture, combining gently until it all comes together.
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The King Arthur Flour recipe warns you that the batter starts out very “gloppy,” and I agree with that description! Eventually it smooths out.
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Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease or spray your pans or muffin tins and then pour or scoop in the batter.
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Bake for about 25 minutes to start, and use a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center to check that it comes out clean–that means it’s done.

Remove and allow to cool.
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To make the icing:

My espresso powder had hardened into chunks, which wouldn't break up easily, so after a minute or two, I simply removed the chunks from the liquid.

My espresso powder had hardened into chunks, which wouldn’t break up easily, so after a minute or two, I simply removed the chunks from the liquid.


Dissolve the espresso powder or instant coffee in the hot water, and set it aside. I suppose you could use 2-3 teaspoons of strong coffee in its place.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat. While it melts, sift the confectioners’ sugar into a large bowl. To the butter, add the yogurt, buttermilk or sour cream and mix well. Keep an eye on the pan and bring just to a boil.

Pour the mixture into the bowl with the confectioners’ sugar along with the espresso/water. Beat slowly until any lumps are gone. The icing will be very thin and drippy, so it is best to let it cool and stiffen for a bit before spreading on the cupcakes.

Let's just say that the drops of icing disappeared by the end of our party.

Let’s just say that the drips of icing disappeared by the end of our party.


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