Saturday, March 8, 2014

buttermilk love: Chocolate Brownie Pound Cake

I used to subscribe to all kinds of magazines when I had that great hour or two in the afternoon before the girls got  home from school and I scheduled reading and nap time for myself.  Please sense the wistfulness in that last sentence.  Good times.  But today I only subscribe to Fine Cooking (totally worth the annual $29), Yoga Journal (not renewing, but it's been a good read) and Oprah (after so many years you would think I would be impressively self-improved).   In a moment of hunger and weakness I picked up a Bon Appetit (probably subscribed to BA for 10 years, but so much content is available on Epicurious it seemed frivolous) because the cover had short rib pot pies and there was a feature on buttermilk.  Good enough justification that particular day in the grocery checkout.  I use buttermilk all the time in my kitchen.  My buttermilk brined oven fried chicken has evolved with the purchase of the Lemonade cookbook and is just amazing.  Ridiculously moist and tender.  I should probably share that with you soon. Buttermilk is awesome in smashed or mashed potatoes/sweet potatoes.  Fresh buttermilk ranch is not nearly as tricky as it sounds and tastes so much better than store bought.  I also love to bake with buttermilk to lighten up cakes and muffins.  It's a miracle ingredient.  It's not expensive, you can buy it in small quantities, it freezes well if you are super thrifty and it's got a decent refrigerated shelf life.  That becomes important when you are feeding only one or two people.  Amazing how little I could shop for empty nester hood.  Note the "could".  Hard adjustment.

This week after having to go 36 hours without solid food (routine maintenance over 50) and being sedated, of course I came home and started cooking and baking.  Don't worry, I eventually grabbed a down blanket, my iPad, the Apple TV and the cats and crashed into a Friday Night Lights marathon.  The day before I voraciously read the Bon Appetit magazine (reading about food when you can't eat is incredibly appealing to me).  I chose a quick little chocolate pound cake recipe and made a few adjustments.  Whenever I make chocolate cakes the best part by far is cleaning up the bowl and the paddle.  I'm not even a huge chocolate fan.  But brownie, Texas Sheet Cake and this pound cake batter are just completely irresistible.  I'm sure a whole serving of this cake was consumed in raw form.  This cake uses coconut oil which I buy at Trader Joe's or the 365 brand at Whole Foods.  I'm not paleo (obviously), but the coconut oil has it charms.  Still can't sell me on it's widespread use.  Too many years of the nutritionists warning us off all tropical oils.  But in this recipe it's delightful.  This recipe also uses butter and buttermilk so there are three fat sources (well probably 5 because there is also  cocoa powder and there are 3 eggs involved).  The three eggs are what makes this so rich and brownie like.  I'm not going to tell you this is health food, but it's better than the average brownie or cake.  At least you can pick your poison here.  Maybe you are in the real butter camp, or the coconut oil camp or the low fat buttermilk camp.  If you can't pledge allegiance to one over the other, in this case you do not have to make a decision.  Me?  I'm just for whole foods.  If you've been reading, you know that.  I'm blessed with a decent metabolism.  I've got cardio and strength training routinely in my schedule.  And I just believe life is too short to skip dessert.  So this little pound cake baked in a loaf pan really just tastes like a very tall brownie.  This one is topped with unsweetened natural coconut flakes and coarse sugar, but you could throw some chocolate, peanut butter or whatever chips or nuts in or on it.  Or just leave it plain.  A super tall brownie really doesn't need embellishment.

cake before oven, after this my day got a little hazy post sedation and recovery

Chocolate Brownie Pound Cake

3/4 C white whole wheat flour
3/4 C almond meal (you can use 1 1/2 C all purpose flour instead of these two flour/meal choices)
1/2 C unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp baking powder
2 T King Arthur Flour Cake Enhancer, very optional but helpful
1/4 C unsalted butter, softened
1/2 C coconut oil, melted
1 1/4 C sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 C buttermilk
1/4 C unsweetened natural coconut flakes (bulk section at Whole Foods)
1 T coarse sugar

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Spray loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, meal, cocoa, salt, baking powder and cake enhancer if using.
Using a mixer, beat coconut oil, butter and sugar until pale and fluffy (at least 5 minutes).  Taste it.  Ha, don't.  But I always do because you know they fed me butter and sugar sandwiches when I was a toddler (times have changed).  Add eggs, one at a time beating well between additions.  Beat until mixture is light and volume is increased, another 5 minutes or so.  Beat in vanilla.
With the mixer speed low, alternate adding flour mixture and buttermilk starting and ending with dry ingredients just until all is incorporated.  However this works out for you is fine, just don't beat it too long.  Scrape batter into prepared pan.  Sprinkle top with coconut flakes and some coarse sugar, if desired.  Bake at 325 for 70-80 minutes until a tester comes out clean.  You may need to loosely tent the cake with foil after a bit if the top is browning too fast.  Let cake cool on a rack about 20 minutes before turning out and flipping right side up to finish cooling.  Tempting to eat this warm, but let it cool or it will break into pieces if you cut it when it's warm.  You can always pop it in the microwave.
Keep cake tightly wrapped and store on the counter for up to 5 days.  Bet this would freeze beautifully too.


yummy batter that I didn't eat raw in my loaf pan

coconut and sugar sprinkled before oven
I'll make it again and give you a pretty slice picture

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

more sunny salads: Carrot, Avocado and Orange California Salad

This salad just has to be called a California salad.  All the ingredients would be fresh and local for my Kelly in LA almost year-round.  It's another salad that just tastes sunny. And truly this just seems like something I'd order in LA.  Greg was home when I made it at lunch the other day and remarked that it was all the things I love.  True.  He loved it too, by the way.  I've seen a few similar recipes out on the interwebs, but I think my spin is fantastic.  Give yourself time to roast the carrots and have them cool a bit.  It's great cold, but if you make a nice big bowl of it, it's pretty terrific a little warm too.  Serve it on arugula or baby greens if you'd like.  Grilled shrimp would be a lovely addition too.

Trader Joe's had the best rainbow carrots around the holidays, and I'm hoping I'll see them around again soon:  red, orange and yellow.  They'll be some of the first vegetables at the local (read cold-weather) farmer's markets which won't be too long now.  Any nice carrots will do.  If you buy them in young bunches, leave about a half-inch of the green tops on just because.  I had nice organic carrots without tops and just cut them into baby carrot size.  Oranges are awesome this time of year.  I used blood oranges because I love them.  Cara cara oranges are another favorite with their pretty dark pink segments (and you can get nice big bags of them at Costco).  Buy oranges (all varieties) that seem heavy for their size.  That seems hard to judge, but pick up a few and you'll get the hang of it.  Light ones are dried out, heavy ones are juicy.  You really should cut off the membranes, but that is ridiculously time consuming and I always waste too much orange, so just peel them and pull apart the segments unless you really want to overachieve.  Always keep avocados in your house.  Ripen them on your counters and when they are soft to a gentle push, put them in the fridge and they'll be just fine for 4-5 days.  Throw them in your salads, in your smoothies, on your sandwiches or burgers and on your whole grain toast.  One of the great joys of life.

Carrot, Avocado and Orange California Salad

4 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt or Maldon salt (fancy flaky sea salt)
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/4 C olive oil, divided
1 1/2 pounds young carrots, scrubbed (with 1/2 inch green tops left on or trimmed, your call)
1/2 C vegetable broth or water (optional)
3 tennis-ball sized oranges
2 avocados
juice of half-whole lemon (to taste)
handful of cleaned and trimmed cilantro leaves
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Crush the garlic cloves with the handle of your knife and slip off the peels.  Mince the garlic together with the salt to almost make a paste.  Pour 3 T of olive oil on a baking sheet/pan and add the garlic/salt paste, carrots, cumin, coriander and red pepper flakes.  Toss to generously coat the carrots and spread them evenly over the pan.  Roast the carrots for about 20 minutes, stirring them once or twice.  Add the vegetable broth or water, stir and continue roasting another 15-20 minutes until all the liquid is absorbed and the carrots are nicely browned.  You can skip the liquid and extra roasting, just make sure your carrots are toothsomely tender after the first 15-20 minutes or give them another 10-15 minutes as needed.  Two-stepping with broth adds a little flavor and helps the carrots to be tender.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Peel and segment your oranges.  If you have any juice on your cutting board add it with the segments to your serving bowl.  Halve your avocados, remove the pits and slice in the skin about the same width as your carrots.  Run a spoon under the flesh and scoop your slices out into your serving bowl.  Scrape your carrots and their roasting spices off your baking sheet and into the serving bowl.  Squeeze half a lemon over top.  Add another tablespoon of olive oil as desired.  Gently toss and taste for lemon, salt and pepper.   Garnish with cilantro.

Serve on arugula or mixed greens if desired.  Toss in grilled shrimp if you're feeling extra flush.

roasted carrots and spices

sliced avocado and segmented oranges added to the bowl

tossed, dressed and garnished